Across the country, activists with ties to the Tea Party are railing against all sorts of local and state efforts to control sprawl and conserve energy. They brand government action for things like expanding public transportation routes and preserving open space as part of a United Nations-led conspiracy to deny property rights and herd citizens toward cities.
In Maine, the Tea Party-backed Republican governor canceled a project to ease congestion along the Route 1 corridor after protesters complained it was part of the United Nations plot. Similar opposition helped doom a high-speed train line in Florida. And more than a dozen cities, towns and counties, under new pressure, have cut off financing for a program that offers expertise on how to measure and cut carbon emissions.
Fox News has also helped spread the message. In June, after President Obama signed an executive order creating a White House Rural Council to "enhance federal engagement with rural communities," Fox programs linked the order to Agenda 21. A Fox commentator, Eric Bolling, said the council sounded "eerily similar to a U.N. plan called Agenda 21, where a centralized planning agency would be responsible for oversight into all areas of our lives. A one world order."
At a Board of Supervisors meeting in Roanoke in late January, Cher McCoy, a Tea Party member from nearby Lexington, Va., generated sustained applause when she warned: "They get you hooked, and then Agenda 21 takes over. Your rights are stripped one by one."
Echoing other protesters, Ms. McCoy identified smart meters, devices being installed by utility companies to collect information on energy use, as part of the conspiracy. "The real job of smart meters is to spy on you and control you -- when you can and cannot use electrical appliances," she said.
According to Google Insights, searches linking Agenda 21 to the NWO conspiracy emerged in 2009, grew to a peak on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and, following a decline, have seen a significant resurgence during the first few months of 2012.
Here, from 2009, is one of the earliest YouTube posts about the plot claiming, among other things, that sustainable development initiatives under Agenda 21 aim to do away with national sovereignty, abolish private property, restructure the family and undermine the constitution. There is a clear implication that things labeled unsustainable -- such as consumerism, reliance on fossil fuels, pesticides, etc. -- will be regulated out of existence by the global government and that people will be "stacked and packed" into small, densely settled urban areas in order to maximize areas of unspoiled nature.
Grassroots interest in the link between local regulations and Agenda 21 received a substantial boost in February of 2011 when the New American printed an article, Your Hometown and the United Nations' Agenda 21, drawing attention to the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives.
Reaction to the information in the NYTimes article has largely been dismissive, treating the individuals involved as crackpots. Here's an example:
It's true, the blueprints were kept secret until now, but smart monitoring of energy use is designed to turn you into a godless slave of the great beast that is the UN. Using a combination of electromagnetic waves and psychotropic medications released from the devices, it's victims will be turned into mindless, left-wing voting slaves of the beast.But dismissing these individuals as isolated crackpots fails to account for a number of interesting facts. First, the idea is obviously spreading. Second, why connect the NWO trope to Agenda 21 now? The document has been around for nearly 20 years without attracting much attention from the conspiracy community. Third, the Google Insight data suggest this is a distinctly American phenomenon -- fully 100% of the searches originated in the US.
I think the tea party has started electing paranoid schizophrenics to their leadership. You couldn't make this stuff up. This stuff is so great I have to resurrect (drumroll) the Tin Foil Hat!
More significantly, there is an obvious connection to the larger dynamics of American politics. These ideas are predominantly held by members of the Tea Party movement, a group that emerged in 2009. The connection with local environmental issues is an extension of their denial of climate change and specifically the notion that cap and trade schemes, ironically introduced as the free market solution to climate change, are a global government plot.
A detailed statistical profile of Tea Party views (and how they compare with other groups) on climate change can be found in Politics and Global Warming: Democrats, Republicans, Independents and the Tea Party. Among the more interesting findings:
- Values: While Democrats have stronger egalitarian values than all other groups, Tea Party members
hold relatively anti-egalitarian views. Tea Party members have stronger individualistic values than all other groups, with strong anti-government attitudes. In other words, Tea Party members are hierarchical-individualists in the parlance of the cultural theory of risk.
- Beliefs about Climate Change: Tea Party members are substantially more likely to deny climate change or attribute it to natural processes (71%) than Republicans (54%), Independents (40%) or Democrats (27%).
- Intensity of their Beliefs: Tea Party members are three times as likely to say that they are “very well informed” about global warming than members of the other groups (Democrats, Republicans, Independents). Likewise, Tea Party members are 2 to 2.5 times as likely to say they “do not need any more information” about global warming to make up their mind and half as likely as other group members to agree that they could change their mind based on additional information.
Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. ... “When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority,” said SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer. “Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.”For the full study, see Social consensus through the influence of committed minorities (warning, dense math).
Obviously, the RPI study needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It is a mathematical model and one can easily think of counter-examples. The abortion debate, for instance, consists of two opposing groups each with more than 10% of the population that posses unshakable beliefs. There is no indication that either is going to run the other out of existence. But, at the same time, the facts of the situation warrant consideration. Tea Party members make up about 12% of the population and, compared to the members of other political groups, hold their beliefs about climate change with an exceptional fervor. These are precisely the characteristics the RPI study identifies as necessary conditions for the rapid spread of the belief.